British sports carmaker AC Cars is establishing its first U.S. manufacturing base to build a new range of carbon-fibre bodied roadsters and coupes.
The US manufacturing base will feature a brand new car model which updates and reinvents the values of the legendary AC Cobra. The new company – AC Cars Manufacturing (USA), Inc. will shortly be commissioning a dedicated factory in Connecticut, USA.
Work on the factory is set to begin in the summer of 2005 and when actual production begins in the Fall of 2006 the new factory will build the following models, all with bodies constructed of advanced, lightweight carbon fibre:
The new AC Ace, a modern successor to the lightweight British sports car which inspired the much more powerful AC Cobra in the 1960s;
The AC Mamba, the first closed coupe version of the classic AC Cobra shape; and
The new AC MK VI – this is an all new design which updates the Cobra for the modern world.
Specification details have yet to be revealed although the new look car, in the tradition of the AC Cobra, will be powered by a US-sourced, high output, V8 power plant.
The AC plant in Malta is currently focusing on US sales of another new AC model, the new MK V – a carbon fibre bodied Cobra look-alike which has superseded the AC CRS model. The Malta operation will launch European and Asian sales of this model in the near future as production there increases. Later, once the AC Ace, Mamba and MKVI go into production in the USA, they will also be built in Malta for the European and Asian markets.
A new plant, which opened earlier this year on the Mediterranean island of Malta, is currently focusing on another new model aimed at the U.S., the MK V, a carbon-fibre-bodied Cobra look-alike. AC Cars said that when the Connecticut plant opens, the Maltese one will switch to production for European and Asian markets.
AC’s new production models will combine old classic cars with modern lightweight carbon fibre (a one-piece carbon fibre body. AC’s move to the US is an indication of where they think the market for the new cars will be.
James Seeley, Vice President – Manufacturing of AC Cars Manufacturing (USA) Inc., commented: “AC’s principal market has for decades been North America, so it makes perfect sense to build the cars here. This means we can benefit from a ‘Made in the USA’ sticker while enjoying all the attributes of a genuine European design base”.
AC Cars Manufacturing (USA), Inc. has a license to manufacture these products from AC Cars Limited, which oversees AC’s global brand operations.
Chairman of AC Cars Ltd, Alan Lubinsky, said: “We are enormously excited by this opportunity to build our cars in the heart of their principal marketplace. The new MK V model – which is already being exported to the US from the Malta plant, together with the more radical MK VI – are certain to have a strong appeal amongst sports car enthusiasts keen to have a genuine AC with all the modern attributes of a 21st Century car”.
AC Cars are all hand-made with a turnaround for most models of around 200 cars a year. Cars featuring the one-part carbon fibre frame (which is one of the largest single carbon fibre body used in the automotive industry) are produced using wet lay as opposed to autoclave, something which will be rectified in the US setup. The company hope that any increase in demand from the US won’t compromise current production methods.
The original Cobra cars were made from a traditional steel tubular chassis with an aluminium body. The new body now sports a lightweight carbon fibre skin construction which the company said will improve the quality of the construction and also offer all the usual benefits of composite materials.
John Owen, Chief Engineer of AC Cars, based in Malta, suggests that one of the reasons why the AC brand is so strong is because of the quality of the finish, which is achieved by the intensive labour process made possible by keeping production to low volumes.
When asked about the reasons behind selecting to develop a single piece carbon fibre shell, he suggests that a one-piece structure produces a much better surface finish, and as well as being structurally more solid (due to minimising joints, etc). Owen also points to the one-piece structure alleviating the problems of shut gaps between panels which he suggests is an issue for composite bodies. The one-piece shell ensures that all apertures between say, bonnet and side panels are consistent with no chance of movement.
AC is the UK’s oldest automotive manufacturer, having been in business since 1901. The company produced a number of engineering innovations, but is perhaps best known for its famous AC Cobra in the 1960’s.
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